One of the most popular rides at fairs and amusement parks, the Ferris wheel is usually considered one of the safest, a ride for all ages. However, as sometimes happens with roller coasters and other such amusements, one Ferris wheel at a fair in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, recently got stuck upside-down.
The cars were filled to capacity and the wheel turning merrily when the ride suddenly malfunctioned. Everyone on board was awkwardly suspended while the ride operators began troubleshooting the mechanical equipment. They spent almost 24 hours attempting to re-set the antique clockwork used to control the motion of the ride, working overnight and breaking only for tea time. Meanwhile, a fire engine was brought on-scene and its ladder raised so that firemen could deliver food and water to those on the ride at regular meal times. 1 After many hours, it was ultimately necessary to dismantle the machine to get the riders out.
The Irish National Fair Inspector’s Council questioned the competence of the ride operators and expressed concern about the overall safety of that particular Ferris wheel. Mr. Willy Gettem, fair inspector general for the County Down region, remarked sternly, “It is very disconcerting that, despite the fact that Ferris Wheel cars normally remain upright by the force of gravity, a Ferris Wheel should ever get stuck. I mean, people could have died on this thing. There were children on board.” He and others have called for a sweeping inspection of all Ferris Wheels around the world, specifically the mechanism that prevents their being stuck upside-down.2
The operators insist that they did nothing wrong, and gave possible reasons for the ride’s misoperation. “There was this one really fat lady,” said Donny Duncan, Ferris wheel operator number 1. “Fair, fat, and wide. I think she just tipped the balance.” Reynold O’Donnell, Ferris wheel operator number 2, theorised that it had more to do with the gravitational pull of the moon at the time of the incident, saying, “I do believe they put a man o’ the moon, but they wadna’ tell you what he’s doing up there.”
Whether it was the fat lady, the moon, or some freak accident like when my telephone exploded and burned a hole in the wall while I was talking through it, may never be known. What we do know now is that what goes up may not come down.